The Twenty Second Read

The Twenty Second Read

A couple of days ago, I was looking at my WordPress reader and I came across a poem by Robert Okaji called “The Nightingale”. Robert is a fine poet, check out his blog at robertokaji.com. Anyway, the reader as per usual just showed the first few verses, and a word count, then as I looked down I noticed a message at the bottom saying”20 sec read”.

I got up and went into the next room where I have a ceiling high Ikea bookshelf packed with poetry books and novels that I can’t throw out because I intend to read most of them again at some point. I pulled out the first poetry book that I bought (sometime in the seventies), The Collected Poems of TS Eliot, Faber and Faber. I opened the book at “The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock.”

“Let us go then, you and I

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table….”

That’s one of those images that snagged on my brain, the first time I read it, like windblown paper snagging on a bush. The poem was published in 1917, but to me it is a quintessentially modern poem with its antihero narrator, the outsider, the wry observer – “not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be”. My point is that I have read that poem many times since the seventies and will continue to read it because every time I do, I get something new out of it. So if today TS Eliot had a blog, although somehow I think he would prefer the relative permanence of paper, I hope WordPress reader would label his poem a “lifetime read”.

By the way, I tried reading Robert Okaji’s poem in twenty seconds, but all I could glean was that it was about a nightingale. So, I went back, a second, third, fourth time and each time I extracted more meaning from the poem. So, I would currently probably label this poem “20 seconds and counting”.

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